What I like about bulbs, which I planted on Sunday, is their utter forgetability. I dig a hole, drop them in, leave their spot unmarked, and forget. The cold and short days of winter will pass — some sparkling days swiftly, most days grindingly — and then one day I’ll be walking up to the house, with my head down and hands in my bag searching for keys, and I’ll see them. The cocked, belled heads of the crocii will be first.
We moved into this house in the summer of 1999, not sure what was planted but for the big, gumdrop shaped old shrubs. Much of the planted parts of the yard seemed taken over by leaf mold or invasive ground vines. That first summer, the most we did was cut back the overgrown parts and mow the neglected grass. In late February 2000, though, stomping through the yard with Eli and Lydia who were still small and close to the ground themselves, we spotted tell-tale little blue heads poking up just inches from patches of cold, bare ground still circled by snow. Planted by someone else before us, they were like a gift from the past to the future. And there we were.
I had a feeling like that recently when I went up into the attic to rummage through my boxes of books and papers I had packed up in June 2006, when my job at Simmons College ended due to budget cuts. (That was a sad, sad time.) I’m currently getting ready to teach a course next semester on expository writing at the Harvard Extension School, and I’m basing it on the first year writing course I taught at Simmons, in which we read and wrote about biographical texts of my choosing. (At MIT, I don’t choose the texts for the WAC courses I’m involved in; the lead professor does.) I opened box after box and found treasure after treasure: books, DVDs, notes, and handouts I had forgotten. If I were in a movie, I would have had to toss those papers into the air to communicate my glee. Instead, I leafed intently through them, my interest in my dearest interests rekindling; I made a pile of keepers. While I did not speak aloud to the empty attic, I felt like whooping, “Yippee!”
Sometimes pieces of ourselves get shut up and put away, underground or in attic boxes. The putting away can seem as though an interment: Oh, that part of myself, or my talents? It is dead to me. Never again. And then, months or years later, the boxes get reopened, the green leaves and colorful heads push up from the ground, and we realize that the book, the bulbs, those little packets of life, have only been waiting for us, keeping themselves alive, shut away in darkness.